BACKGROUND: The symptom severity of a substantial group of schizophrenia patients (30-40%) does not improve through pharmacotherapy with antipsychotic medication, indicating a clear need for new treatment options to improve schizophrenia outcome. Meta-analyses, genetic studies, randomized controlled trials, and post-mortem studies suggest that immune dysregulation plays a role in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Some anti-inflammatory drugs have shown beneficial effects on the symptom severity of schizophrenia patients. Corticosteroids are effective in various chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Prednisolone, a potent glucocorticosteroid, has minor mineral-corticosteroid potencies and can adequately pass the blood-brain barrier and its side effects and safety profile are well known. Therefore, the effect of prednisolone can be studied as a proof of concept for immune modulation as a treatment for schizophrenia. METHODS/DESIGN: In total, 90 subjects aged 18-70 years and diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophreniform disorder (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV) 295.x) or psychosis not otherwise specified (NOS; 298.9) will be included. The time interval between the onset of psychosis and study entry should not exceed 7 years. Patients will be randomized 1:1 to either prednisolone or placebo daily for a period of 6 weeks in addition to a stable dose of antipsychotic medication. Study medication will be initiated at 40 mg for 3 days, after which it will be tapered down within 6 weeks after initiation, following inflammatory bowel diseases treatment guidelines. Primary outcome is change in symptom severity, expressed as change in total score on the Positive and Negative Symptom Scale (PANSS) from baseline to end of treatment. Cognitive functioning (measured through the Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS)) and change in Global Assessment Functioning (GAF) and depressive symptoms as measured with the Calgary Depression Scale for Schizophrenia (CDS) will be assessed, in addition to various immunological biomarkers. Secondary outcomes are a 4- and 6-month follow-up assessment of PANSS, BACS, and GAF scores and immunological biomarkers. Additionally, a subgroup of patients will be included in the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) part of the study where MR spectroscopy and structural, functional, and diffusion MRI will be conducted. DISCUSSION: It is expected that prednisolone addition to current antipsychotic medication use will reduce symptom severity and will improve cognition when compared to placebo. TRIAL REGISTRATION:, NCT02949232 and NCT03340909. Registered 31 October 2016 and 14 November 2017. EudraCT-number 2014-000520-14 and 2017-000163-32.

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Department of Psychiatry

Nasib, L.G. (Lyliana G.), Sommer, I.E. (Iris E.), Winter-van Rossum, I. (Inge), de Vries, J. (Jacqueline), Gangadin, S.S. (Shiral S.), Oomen, P.P. (Priscilla P.), … Johnsen, E.L. (Erik L.). (2020). Prednisolone versus placebo addition in the treatment of patients with recent-onset psychotic disorder: a trial design. Trials, 21(1). doi:10.1186/s13063-020-04365-4